Classic FM has been grooming the young pianist Ji Liu for his debut solo CD, leaving nothing to chance. The repertoire is tried and true, with a couple of Horowitz transcriptions thrown in, and the inevitable traditional Chinese song served up in a piano arrangement that’s easy on the ears and the brain.
Liu opens with a meticulously articulated yet rather earthbound Mendelssohn/Rachmaninov Scherzo that doesn’t quite match the lightness and elegance others bring to this difficult transcription (Friedrich Höricke on MDG, Garrick Ohlsson on EMI or Vladimir Ashkenazy on Decca, to say nothing of Moiseiwitsch and Rachmaninov himself). Liu’s melodic projection in both Chopin Nocturnes and Liszt’s Third Liebestraum lacks the firmness and intent one infers from Bolet and Rubinstein. His fluid, direct and simple Moonlight Sonata Adagio leads into a controlled, contrived and not terribly lilting Allegretto, followed by a earnestly accurate but careful Presto. Liu underplays the Schubert/Liszt/Horowitz Ständchen’s cantabiles, while the Tchaikovsky Barcarolle’s lyrical arches wilt and die on the proverbial vine. All the notes are there in the Saint-Saëns/Liszt/Horowitz Danse macabre but turn to Yuja Wang and Volodos for more energy and characterful accentuation.
Liu saves his most imaginative and emotionally engaged piano-playing for Debussy’s Suite bergamasque. He paints the ‘Prélude’ in broad, generous brush strokes and brings a welcome acerbic edge to the ‘Menuet’ and ‘Passepied’ that many pianists prettify to a fault. And ‘Claire de lune’ sounds as it looks on the printed page, with no kitsch attached.